Bluegrass on the Grass
Bluegrass wafted across green grasses last Saturday, when Dickinson's 15th-annual bluegrass festival came to campus. And the threat of rain didn't dissuade a crowd of approximately 2,500 from enjoying it.
Sponsored by the Dickinson College Chautauqua Concert Series, a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and local businesses and patrons, the Bluegrass on the Grass festival featured two one-hour sets each by four well-known bluegrass groups. Each band presented both original and traditional tunes and offered four unique takes on the genre, which blends old-time country music, European and American folk songs and tinges of gospel, blues and jazz.
It was a full and colorful event. The festival kicked off at 1 p.m. with The Special Consensus, a National Public Radio mainstay that enjoys weaving bluegrass arrangements of non-bluegrass hits between traditional and original selections. Singer-songwriter Sally Jones next made waves in a special appearance with The Night Drivers, a band led by her singer-songwriter husband, Chris. [Article continues below.]
The Freight Hoppers kicked up dust with old-time roots music and quirky bass lines; longtime festival favorites The Dismembered Tennesseans followed up with a melody-driven slice of Americana that has kept the band playing since 1945. And the fun didn't stop until after 9:30 p.m., when headliners The Boxcars rounded their final contemporary-bluegrass tune.
Sounding like home
A nine-and-a-half-hour program is not easy to organize, but it is more than worth the effort. Over the years, the festival has grown from a one-band barn concert to a daylong extravaganza that draws music fans from several neighboring states. That's because bluegrass music and its related subgenre, roots music, soundly resonates with American audiences, said festival founder and host Davis Tracy, an avid bluegrass fan and advisor of Dickinson's radio station, WDCV.
"The themes in bluegrass lyrics and the instrumentation and vocal harmonies are commemorative of issues in the lives of Americans," said Tracy, who recently retired from his post as director of Dickinson’s counseling center, but intends to continue to host Bluegrass on the Grass for years to come.
"With its roots in both music of the British Isles and African-American blues and gospel, bluegrass and old-time music feels like home to many Americans."
Learn more about the festival's 15th-anniversary celebration.
By MaryAlice Bitts
Photos by A. Pierce Bounds '71